On the road in Tuscany

Arezzo may not be a Tuscan centrefold, but those parts of its historic centre that survived merciless WWII bombings are as compelling as any destination in the region. A setting for two Oscar-winning films – Anthony Minghella's The English Patient and Roberto Benigni's La vita è bella (Life is Beautiful) – its photogenic historic centre is well worth a visit.

 

Things to do in Arezzo

Cappella Bacci

Gracing the apse of the 14th-century Chiesa di San Francesco is one of the greatest works of Italian art, Piero della Francesca's fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross . Painted between 1452 and 1466, it relates in 10 episodes the story of the cross on which Christ was crucified. It was named in honour of the wealthy family that commissioned it.

Pieve di Santa Maria

This 12th-century church (Arezzo's oldest) has a magnificent Romanesque arcaded facade adorned with dozens of carved columns, each uniquely decorated. Its 14th-century bell tower, with 40 apertures, is something of an emblem for the city. Above the central doorway are 13th-century carved reliefs known as the Cyclo dei Mesi, which represent the months of the year.

Cattedrale di San Donato

Though construction started in the 13th century, Arezzo's duomo (cathedral) wasn't completed until well into the 15th century. In the northeast corner, to the left of the bulky, intricately carved main altar, there's an exquisite fresco of Mary Magdalene (c 1460) by Piero della Francesca.

Casa Museo di Ivan Bruschi

The 13th-century Palazzo del Capitano del Popolo opposite the pieve was restored in the 1960s by Ivan Bruschi, a wealthy antique dealer who was the instigator of Arezzo's antiques fair and whose family had owned the building since the start of the 20th century.

Piazza Grande

This lopsided and steeply sloping piazza is located behind the pieve and is overlooked at its upper end by the porticos of the Palazzo delle Logge Vasariane , completed in 1573. The church-like Palazzo della Fraternità dei Laici in the northwest corner was started in 1375 in the Gothic style and finished after the onset of the Renaissance.

Museo Archeologico Nazionale 'Gaio Cilnio Mecenate'

Overlooking the remains of a Roman amphitheatre that once seated up to 10,000 spectators, this museum in a 14th-century convent has a sizeable collection of Etruscan and Roman artefacts, the highlights of which are the Cratere di Euphronios, a large 6th- century-BC Etruscan vase decorated with vivid scenes showing Hercules in battle, and an exquisite tiny portrait of a bear.

Roman Amphitheatre

Adjoining the Museo Archeologico, this once seated up to 10,000 spectators. Inside, there's a sizable collection of Etruscan and Roman artefacts, including locally produced ceramics and bronzes.

Chiesa di San Domenico

A short detour from the duomo, this church has an unusual, asymmetrical facade and an austere interior dominated by a haunting Crucifixion over the main altar, one of Cimabue's earliest works. Note, too, the well-preserved fresco of Saint Philip and Saint Jacob and the Story of their Lives by Spinello Aretino (1350–1410) on the inside of the facade.

Museo di Casa di Vasari

Built and sumptuously decorated (in many cases, overwhelmingly so) by Vasari (1511–74) himself, this is where the Arezzo-born painter, architect and art historian lived and where the original manuscript of his Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects (1550) – still in print under the title The Lives of the Artists – is kept.

Museo Statale d'Arte Medievale e Moderna

A repository of art from churches in the Arezzo diocese, this time-worn museum is in urgent need of some tender loving care. If it wasn't for the presence of Pietro Lorenzetti's Madonna with Child and Saints Agnes and Catherine (c 1310–15) and Parri di Spinello's Madonna della Misericordia (c 1437), we'd be tempted to advise giving it a miss.

Casa di Petrarca

Via del Pileati leads to Casa di Petrarca , the poet's former home, which contains a small museum and the Accademia Petrarca, a library and research institute devoted primarily to Petrarch. Visits are by appointment and really only for serious Petrarch fans. Enquire at the tourist office for more details.